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Goraku (Variety) (Japan Version)
Tokyo Incidents (Tokyo Jihen)
Goraku (Variety) (Japan Version)
This professional review refers to Goraku (Variety) (Japan Version)

A Tokyo Jihen album is always thought to be a Shiina Ringo album in disguise because she has a say in every single aspect of the album. However, that assumption is proven wrong with Variety, their long-awaited third album after the rock diva took a short hiatus for her own solo album. While Shiina did pen the lyrics for a majority of the songs this time, she actually left the music aspect to other band members for the first time in the band's short history. The titles of Tokyo Jihen albums are often accurate: Their first album Kyoiku ("Education") shows the band trying to find its footing with raw rock tracks done mostly in one take; their second album Adult is an experiment in infusing big band elegance in rock. Like its title suggests, Variety is a surprisingly light-hearted album that might not be something one might expect from Shiina Ringo. Nevertheless, it's a fun set of music that may be the most listener-friendly thing she has ever done. Whether that's a good thing or not is up to you to decide.

While Variety abandons the piano-driven mature elegance of Adult for the conventional rock tone of Kyoiku, it also features the best production values out of the three. Unlike the other albums, the album's tone is lighter, and more "entertaining" for the masses. This is evident in opening track "Ramp" (Track 1), an upbeat bubble gum rock track driven by electronic keyboard and the usual Shiina-style electronic touches.

As the album continues on, it's hard to pin down the exact genre Tokyo Jihen wants to use. At times, the album seems to be in the tone of 70s psychedelic rock with tracks like "Mirrorball" (Track 2), Osca (Track 5), and Metro (Track 13). At other times, it goes down the path of 80s alternative pop meets bubble gum rock with tracks such as Boutomin (Track 8) and SSAW (Track 9). And sometimes it just returns to good old Tokyo Jihen-style treble-filled rock with "The Goldfish Box" (Track 3) and "Killer Tune" (Track 11). Regardless of the genre, it's a rare occasion where the listeners can actually tell that the musicians are having just as much fun as them. In that sense, Variety is a worthwhile alternative pop album simply for the fact that it manages to have the usual rock self-indulgence without sounding as such.

However, some fans will probably spend the length of the album searching for the old angst-filled Shiina, who is sorely missing on Variety. Even the traditional Shiina-style tracks such as "Goldfish Box" and "Vengeance" (Track 10) lack the singer's usual vocal energy that would have lifted them into powerhouse performances. While this is what some listeners might tune in for, the inclusion of such vocals would have been inappropriate for Variety. Since the rest of the album's tone remains lighthearted, more serious tracks such as "Vengeance" and mid-beat ballad "Private Life" (track 4) actually clash with the general tone, taking away the musical consistency in the rest of the album.

While Variety is more accessible to general listeners, I'm more intrigued about how Shiina Ringo fans would respond to it. Without the lead vocalist writing any of the songs, Tokyo Jihen seems to be trying to prove that they are more than just "Shiina Ringo and company". Thankfully, the results prove to be mostly successful. While this isn't the best Tokyo Jihen album in my book (the raw and loud Kyoiku continues to hold that title), the number of genres that Variety manages to cover successfully makes the band one of the best pop rock groups in Japanese pop. In fact, the only problem I have with this album is that I can no longer decide whether I want Shiina to return to solo work or to continue on with Tokyo Jihen. As long as she doesn't stop making music, I'll probably keep listening anyway.

by Kevin Ma

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